Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 15
Levels of Spiritual Growth
In Numbers 15, God gives instructions to Moses about the different levels of sacrifices they were to offer to God after they entered the Promised Land. In this passage, the Israelites are still in the wilderness. The last chapter told the story of Joshua, Caleb, and the twelve evil spies, and how God disciplined those who did not have any faith. At the beginning of Numbers 15, the Lord tells Moses how the Israelites should offer sacrifices after they arrive in the Promised Land. Later, the chapter tells two additional stories. The first story is about a man who was gathering wood on the Sabbath day and was stoned to death. The second story records God’s commands to add blue tassels and cords to their garments so they can remember the Lord’s commands. The next chapter, Numbers 16, tells the story of Korah’s rebellion.
The difference between the different levels of sacrifices lies in the amount of fine flour, oil and wine, and in the size of the animals used. Basically, the larger the animal is to be sacrificed, the more fine flour, oil and wine will be used.
The first level of sacrifices is recorded in verses 4-5. A lamb and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour are presented as an offering. One ephah is about 22 liters in today’s measurements. The people were to offer about 2.2 liters of fine flour. A quarter of a hin of oil, which is about 3.66 liters, would also be offered. A quarter of a hin is about 0.915 liters. These two were to be mixed as a grain offering. Finally, a quarter of a hin of wine, which is 0.915 liters, must also be prepared.
The sacrificial system represented salvation, so these lambs represent Christ’s sacrifice for us. The salvation of Christ remains the same for each person, but the degree to which we personally experience his salvation different. The lamb (meaning “young ram” in Hebrew) of the first level, the ram of the second level, and the bull of the third level represent salvation. Depending on their willingness and ability, Israelites brought differing sacrifices to God. However, if the size of the animal sacrifices they offered was different, the amount of fine flour, oil and wine would also be different.
Animals, fine flour, oil, and wine all represent Christ. It’s just that they represent different aspects of Christ. Animals represent the salvation of Christ; the fine flour represents the humanity of Christ; oil represents the Holy Spirit of Christ, and wine represents the uplifting power of Christ’s life. For example, the Lord is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The fine flour is made by grinding wheat, and Christ is a grain of wheat that falls into the earth to die for us (ESV, John 12:24). Therefore, the fine flour represents the death of Christ on the cross and his sacrifice for humanity. Oil represents the Holy Spirit. This is widely recognized by Christians, so there’s no need to say more. Wine represents uplifting people’s lives. The Lord Jesus turned water into wine, bringing joy to the wedding guests. Like the good Samaritan, who bandaged the wounds of the man attacked by robbers by pouring oil and wine on them, Jesus brings healing to our souls. There are many more examples of how these elements represent Christ, but these will suffice.
The second level of sacrifice is recorded in verses 6-7. The animal offered here is a ram, which is a bit bigger than a lamb (or young ram). Spiritually, it represents a greater experience of Christ’s redemption. Let me repeat, Christ’s redemption is the same for everyone. But you can continue to experience Christ’s redemption in new and greater ways. At this stage, you have to offer two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, (4.4 liters), a third of a hin of oil and a third of a hin of wine (1.22 liters). Not only did the amount of flour increase, but the amount of oil and wine also increased.
This represents the different stages of God’s salvation and the filling of the Holy Spirit that we experience. When you are first saved, you rejoice that you will not go to hell. You start reading the Bible, going to church meetings, and praising the Lord. When you praise the Lord, the sacrifice you offer is like the lamb or young ram. The amount of change, and the amount of Christ’s redemption that you experience is still very limited. At first, you didn’t seem to feel any different about the bad things you used to do before you trusted Christ. When you became a believer, you suddenly realized these things are wrong. But the experience of Christ’s tender humanity is not enough. You don’t manifest the life of Christ in your own life as much as you would like to.
But God is patient with you as a new believer. The elders in the church are also tolerant of you, and they do not place high demands on a new believer. You may also have many personality flaws. This means that your fine flour is not as much as it will be in the future. The filling and anointing of the Holy Spirit you experience is also very limited. If the elders let you preach or share, you’ll often find that there is not much to say. And it seems that there is not a lot of the presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that your oil is limited. You’ll also find that although you are willing to help some people, you can’t do much about it. This is because your wine is limited.
As Christians begin to pursue spiritual maturity and change, you begin to experience Christ more and more, and his life in you grows stronger. It is as if you have presented a ram as an offering. The ram is a bit bigger than the lamb. You have dealt with some sins, and you are more enthusiastic about serving than you were when you were first saved. You are also willing to help other unbelieving friends. When you first became a believer, you only felt that you were a sinner and you had sinful behavior. But you begin to discover that your sinful disposition is actually inside you. Often, you don’t want to lose your temper and do wrong things. But you feel that you can’t control yourself. Slowly, you also begin to discover many flaws in your character. You’d never noticed that your character was so bad, even after you became a believer. At this time, you need more of Christ’s redemption of your nature, which is represented by the fine flour, and more filling of the Holy Spirit, which is the oil. Gradually, you will be able to produce more wine in your life, which can uplift other people. Others will begin to praise you, saying that you have grown spiritually and changed, and you can begin to shepherd young believers.
The third level is recorded in verses 8-10. The bull is larger than the lamb and the ram, so the amount of fine flour has increased to three-tenths of an ephah, or 6.6 liters. The oil and wine also increase to half a hin, which is 1.83 liters. This represents that the life of Christ you experienced has increased in you. The degree to which you are filled with the Holy Spirit, as well as your power to produce and supply life to others, has also increased. You grow to be a more mature Christian, taking on more spiritual responsibilities in the church. You have a lot to offer spiritually to younger believers.
The three levels of sacrifices described in verses 1-16 are thank offerings given willingly to the Lord. Verse 3 says that whether an individual offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice, or fulfills a vow or freewill offering or offers a sacrifice at an appointed feast, it should be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Verses 20-29 talk about the sin offering for unintentional sin, while verses 30-36 talk about the results of sinning deliberately. All of these spiritual sacrifices can please God.
In Numbers 14, God disciplined the evil spies and those who could not enter the Promised Land. The words about sacrifices in Numbers 15 are for Joshua, Caleb, and the others who would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Christians often use Joshua and Caleb to represent faith, and the ten evil spies to represent an evil, unbelieving heart. In the New Testament, Paul also thinks that way. First Corinthians 10:5 says, “With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” (ESV) Therefore, it is not unreasonable for us to use sacrifices in Numbers 15 to represent the different stages of the Christian life. The Old Testament is a picture, while the New Testament is the reality. It’s not that we cannot interpret the words of the Old Testament spiritually, but that we must use the correct spiritual reality to interpret these pictures.
After talking about these different levels of sacrifices in verses 1-16, the Lord goes on to give instructions on presenting a loaf of the first of their dough as a contribution when they enter the Promised Land of Canaan (vs. 17-21). We know that wheat represents Christ, and flour milling represents the milling on the cross. We should follow the example of Christ, know the power of his resurrection, and become like him in his death (NIV, Philippians 3:10). As we saw in the previous section, we must become like Christ in our daily life, becoming like him in his death. Then, we will also be part of His resurrection. We must let the life of Christ have a chance to grow in us, so that we can continue to experience Christ’s redemption, the changes he brings, the filling of the Holy Spirit and the increase in power.
But in the process of pursuing spirituality and spiritual maturity, we often encounter our own weaknesses and failures. Verses 22-31 describe two situations of sin and weakness. First, when the Israelites sinned unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation should offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, with its grain offering and its drink offering, and one male goat for a sin offering (ESV, Numbers 15:24). Second, if one person sinned unintentionally, he should offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering (ESV, Numbers 15:27). In this way, their collective sins or personal sins would be forgiven. But if they sinned deliberately, they must be cut off from their people. After giving these instructions, God records the story of a man who was caught violating the Sabbath. The Lord told Moses that the Israelites should stone him to death. Obviously, this person is reckoned to have sinned deliberately, so he was severely disciplined.
This is closely related to our experience of growing in the Christian life. We often have no intention to sin, but we still sin. As long as we confess our sins and repent, taking Christ as our sin offering, God will forgive our sins. As John the Apostle said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV, 1 John 1:9). We must always confess our sins so that God will forgive all our sins. As we do, we will once again enter the cycle of fellowship of the divine life, and continue to change to be more like Him. But if we do not confess our sins, we will be cut off from the cycle of fellowship of the divine life. As the Lord Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (ESV, John 15:6).
How do we abide in the Lord? We need to let the word of the Lord abide in us. This is what Numbers 15:37-41 is saying. In this passage, God commanded the Israelites to make tassels on the corners of their garments, with a blue cord on each tassel to remind them to remember God’s words and commands. This is also our experience in the New Testament. For example, the Lord Jesus said in John 15:7 (ESV), “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Our relationship with the Lord can be compared to the relationship between the branches and the vine (John 15:2). The branches abide in the vine, allowing the sap of the vine to circulate throughout the vine and branches. The sap of the vine represents the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord abides in us, just as the sap abides in the branches. The Lord Jesus said in John 6:63, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (ESV) The word of the Lord, which is the sap of the vine, is life. We must use all our wisdom to let the words of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16).
Before I had a smartphone, I used to write Scriptures and hymn stanzas on note cards and carry them in my pocket. When I had time, I would contemplatively read and sing these words. In this way, I abide in God’s word actively throughout the day, filled with the Holy Spirit.
An older lady whom I know from the Local Church Movement is actively pursuing spiritual maturity. She told me that for many years, she would copy out hymns, especially the chorus of the hymns, on a piece of paper. She would sing them from time to time while she rode the bus. She lived a very joyful life, filled with the word of the Lord and the Holy Spirit.
This practice is worth promoting. Now that we have smartphones and everything is easily available, it is even more convenient for us to practice these spiritual habits. Unfortunately, many people are inundated with messages in WeChat and Facebook on their cell phones, and they have very little time to practice spiritual disciplines. When the word of the Lord stops moving through us, like the sap moves through the branches, we will wither spiritually. Then, we will be cut off. Of course, many of us will not lose eternal life. But we have lost the joy and peace that comes from our fellowship with God.
God’s words in the Old Testament and the New Testament are consistent. The Bible says we have only one God (1 Corinthians 8:6) and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His method of speaking changes with the target audience, but the spirit of speaking and the inner meaning are consistent. The Bible says, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV) We need to learn to be a spiritual person who judges all things (1 Corinthians 2:15).
Numbers 15 paints a picture of how we as Christians can abide in the Lord, allowing his words to flow through us so we can remain in the fellowship of the divine life. As such, we will be a branch that bears much fruit. If we as branches do not bear fruit, the natural consequence is clear. “The Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (ESV, John 15:1-2).